While known to many as a time of joyful celebration, the holiday season can be a challenging time for families affected by Alzheimer’s disease. Imagine traveling hundreds of miles to visit a loved one, just to be greeted by a blank stare. Then imagine being that loved one, feeling frightened, confused and unsure of where – or even who – you are. This is the reality faced by millions of Americans each year.
“The hustle and bustle that accompanies the holidays can be stressful for people living with Alzheimer’s,” says Monica Moreno, senior director of care and support for the Alzheimer’s Association. “Changes in the daily routine, large gatherings and noisy environments – all holiday hallmarks – can create extra anxiety for someone living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias.”
The sixth-leading cause of death in America, Alzheimer’s kills more people annually than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. In Miami-Dade County alone, there are currently more than 60,000 people battling the disease, and with still no effective treatment or cure.
To help families navigate holiday-related challenges, the Alzheimer’s Association is offering the following tips to ensure an enjoyable holiday for all.
• Prepare Your Guests: The holidays are full of emotions, so let guests know what to expect before they arrive, and tell them how they can help. Suggest activities to engage the person with Alzheimer’s or best ways to communicate with them. “Cross-talk or simultaneous conversations can be challenging for people living with Alzheimer’s, so try engaging them one-on one or in smaller group settings,” Moreno advises.
• Build on traditions and memories: Take time to experiment with new traditions that might be less stressful or a better fi t with your caregiving responsibilities. If evening confusion and agitation are a problem, turn your holiday dinner into a holiday lunch or brunch.
• Involve the person living with Alzheimer’s: Depending on abilities and preferences, make sure to keep the person with Alzheimer’s involved in the celebrations, such as packing cookies in tins or helping wrap gifts.
• Plan ahead: When attending a holiday party, prepare the host for special needs, such as a quiet room for the person to rest when they get tired, away from the noise and distractions.
• Adapt gift giving to ensure safe and useful gifts: Diminishing capacity may make some gifts unusable or even dangerous to a person with dementia. If someone asks for gift ideas, suggest items people living with the disease can easily enjoy, such as comfortable clothing, favorite music, videos and photo albums.
The Alzheimer’s Association is the world’s leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support and research. For more helpful caregiving tips and additional information about the Alzheimer’s Association, visit www.alz.org or contact the Association’s 24/7 helpline at (800) 272-3900.